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Western guard Lexie Bland shielding the ball from a group of Central Washington University defenders at a home game on Saturday, Feb. 15. // Photo by Claire Ott

By Connor J. Benintendi

Western’s women’s basketball team defeated the Central Washington University Wildcats 77-69 on Saturday, Feb. 15, at Sam Carver Gymnasium’s annual Pink Night for cancer awareness.

Now tied for third place in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference, the Vikings move to 11-5 in conference play and hold a 17-7 overall record.

Former Vikings All-American guard Taylor Peacocke was on the sideline serving as honorary coach for the contest, while enduring her own battle with cancer.

Senior guard Lexie Bland, who played alongside Peacocke during the 2016-17 season, tallied career-highs with 22 points and nine assists.

“She’s one of my best friends and one of my biggest role models,” Bland said postgame. “When I got to play with her freshman year she was my go-to; she put so much confidence in me that I never knew I had. Having her tonight brought that back out.”

“I came out with a different mindset, I wanted to attack the basket as much as I could. I really wanted this win, especially after back-to-back losses.”

Bland’s effort also made her one of just 19 in Western’s women’s basketball history to total 300 assists in her career.

Head coach Carmen Dolfo said having Peacocke on the sideline was a definite motivator for Bland going into the contest.

“[Bland] was unbelievable tonight,” Dolfo said in a postgame interview. “I think Taylor [Peacocke] being here motivated her. [She’s] always looked up to Taylor and respected her. [Bland] was scoring but she was also making everything happen on the floor.”

Following two straight losses — one of which being their first home loss of the season — Dolfo said that the team tried to stay positive and keep their unity; attributing the win to her team’s tenacity and resilient play on the court instead of her coaching.

Bland spoke postgame about the importance of this matchup in setting the tone for the remainder of the team’s season.

“We knew we weren’t playing to our ability and that’s not Western basketball,” Bland said.

Western played with the lead for nearly 39 of the 40-minute contest, and only briefly trailed the Wildcats by two during the opening minute of the game. 

A tightly contested first quarter saw Western hold just a six-point lead at quarter’s end. 

However, late in the second quarter the Vikings erupted for a 14-0 scoring run en route to a 15-point advantage by halftime. 

That grew into a 25-point lead heading into the fourth quarter, but a final period surge from Central Washington saw the Wildcats pull within 10 points before the game was over. 

Two other Western players scored double-digit points outside of Bland. Senior center Anna Schwecke totaled a 16-point, 12-rebound double-double, and sophomore guard Avery Dykstra had 12 points, four rebounds and two steals. 

Sophomore guard Mollie Olson had another well-rounded performance totaling six points, five rebounds, five assists, two blocks and a steal.   

“We were just reading what they were giving us,” Schwecke said. “Our biggest thing was to lean on each other and to be together as a team instead of [hoping] one person will save the day.” 

Western was scoring efficiently, connecting on 53.3% of their shots to Central Washington’s lackluster 37.7%. Nearly half of Central Washington’s shots came from 3-point range, in which they made just 27.6%. Western only shot nine threes and converted on four of them. 

The Vikings grabbed ten more rebounds than the Wildcats, moving to 15-5 this season when out rebounding their opponent. The team is 2-2 when the opposite occurs. 

Western’s nine team steals helped them score 17 fast break points to Central Washington’s three, and the Vikings’ bench players poured in five more points than the Wildcats’ bench. Western’s dominance in all phases left no room for a Central Washington comeback. 

Next week, Western travels to Alaska for a two-game road trip. First, on Thursday, Feb. 20, they’ll play the 7-18 University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks, before heading to the GNAC-leading University of Alaska Anchorage Seawolves on Feb. 22. 

Alaska Anchorage is 12-0 at home this season and 25-2 overall, but one of their two losses came against Western in Sam Carver Gymnasium on Jan. 23.


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